SHERBURN - There was some concern earlier this week when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a list of power plants that would need to shut down given new EPA restrictions. The only power plant in Minnesota to make the list was the Fox Lake plant near Sherburn.
The plant is operated by Interstate Power and Light, owned by Alliant Energy.
New regulations take aim at plants that burn coal or have the ability to burn coal. Local workers at Interstate Power and Light say the plant has not burned coal in more than a decade. But the fact the plant still has the ability to do so is why it made the list, according to Ryan Stensland, spokesman for Alliant Energy.
DAYS?NUMBERED?— The Fox Lake power plant near Sherburn has been producing power since the 1950s, but it likely will shut down before the decade is up.
"What the EPA looks at are the units, specifically the boilers associated with the units," he said. "They are identified as being tied to units that could potentially burn coal. If they still have that capability, they need to be upgraded to bring it into compliance ... Even if it were to burn coal for only 10 minutes only one day out of the year, the EPA still wants to have that upgraded to be environmentally compliant."
There are four production units at the Fox Lake plant, but only two are in operation. Those units produce about 100 megawatts, enough to power about 100,000 homes.
While the plant formerly burned coal, today it only uses natural gas.
"It has been approximately 15 years since the Fox Lake Generating Station utilized coal as a fuel source," Stensland said.
But he also said the Fox Lake plant likely will be retired within the next 10 years.
"It's still a moving target as to when," he said. "It could be anytime from mid-decade to the end of the decade. A lot of it depends on the EPA regulations, or we could find a technology that is cost-effective ... It's kind of like having a car that's got a 150,000 miles on it, and you learn from the mechanic that the transmission's going and you need to replace the head gasket, and it's going to cost $5,000 to $6,000, when your car is only worth about $6,000. You begin to think, 'Do I really want to make that kind of investment, or do I need to look in another direction.' And right now, we're leaning toward another direction in the future."
Current options for upgrading the plant are not cost-effective for consumers, according to Stensland.
"We're buying time," he said. "The switch over to natural gas helped greatly in reducing emissions, but in the long term, it's most viable to retire the plant ... Environmental regulations will play a role in the decision to retire the facility at some point in the future, but the economics of continuing to invest in the generating station at this time are not cost-effective for our customers."
The plant has been in operation with its first unit since 1950, with the additional three units being added in 1951, 1960 and 1974.